ONE: opportunity knocks

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
He didn't understand.

The 2-year-old boy nestled into his mother's arms as they both tried to sleep on a bed in a home that was not theirs. He didn't understand his mother, who had to go to work at a cell-phone kiosk in a few hours, was trying to make a better life for both of them.

He didn't understand he was homeless.

"I never thought we were homeless, since my family was so accepting of us," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sonia Sandoval, as she looked through a large, glass window overlooking a sheep pasture with golf ball-shaped buildings in the background, Oct. 1. "But it was still very hard. My son was my drive."

For more than a year Sandoval, who is now a medical technician and facility manager with the 422nd Medical Squadron at RAF Croughton, United Kingdom, moved from house to house - staying with family members in Puerto Rico while she worked through a difficult divorce and waited in the Air Force Delayed Enlistment Program.

"It did take a year before I actually left for basic training," Sandoval said. "That year was very hard on me - because I didn't have any security. I was going from home to home, struggling back and forth with my husband and I separating and then getting back together."

Sandoval saw the Air Force as an opportunity to make a new life and provide for her son. Five years later, the woman who had no idea where she might be sleeping from one night to the next is now re-married, with two children and in charge of a $13.06 million, brand-new medical facility.

"This project has definitely been an eye-opener," Sandoval said, as she walked through the state-of-the-art building, scheduled to open, Nov. 6. "It was pretty much bare bones when I first got here - no electrical, nothing. For about a year, we have been looking at this transformation with a lot of excitement."

With no prior experience in facility management, Sandoval said she was completely taken out of her comfort zone.

"Leadership has been 100 percent on my side, and allowed me to make decisions on this project," she said. "That gave me the passion to do the best job I can and make the right decisions. They really let me take on the clinic as my baby - so I'm really excited to see it all finished."

As Sandoval walked through the nearly-finished corridors of the clinic, she smiled and greeted the construction workers whom she had come to know during her yearlong journey as the facility manager. With such a personal stake in the project and the people associated with it, Sandoval said the Air Force has given her and her family what she didn't have before - a place to belong.

"To me, the Air Force means opportunity," Sandoval said, returning to the large window overlooking RAF Croughton. "It's security, stability and the ability to provide for my family. It's really been a blessing."

That blessing, Sandoval said, came in the form of a new home and family that welcomed her when things seemed hopeless.

"My family in Puerto Rico was very accepting during the tough times," she said. "But here, the support my Air Force family has given me is absolutely incredible."